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Keywords:

  • hot cognition;
  • implicit attitudes;
  • motivated reasoning;
  • automaticity;
  • affect

We report the results of three experimental tests of the “hot cognition” hypothesis, which posits that all sociopolitical concepts that have been evaluated in the past are affectively charged and that this affective charge is automatically activated within milliseconds on mere exposure to the concept, appreciably faster than conscious appraisal of the object.

We find support for the automaticity of affect toward political leaders, groups, and issues; specifically:

  • • 
    Most Ss show significantly faster reaction times to affectively congruent political concepts and significantly slower response times to affectively incongruent concepts;
  • • 
    These facilitation and inhibition effects, which hold for a cross-section of political leaders, groups, and issues, are strongest for those with the strongest prior attitudes, with sophisticates showing the strongest effect on “harder” political issues.
  • • 
    Even semantically unrelated affective concepts (e.g., “sunshine,”“cancer”) have a strong effect on the evaluation of political leaders, groups, and issues.

We conclude with a discussion of the “so what?” question—the conceptual, substantive, and normative implications of hot cognition for political judgments, evaluations, and choice. One clear expectation, given that affect appears to be activated automatically on mere exposure to sociopolitical concepts, is that most citizens, but especially those sophisticates with strong political attitudes, will be biased information processors.